When Kevin O’Neill was hired as Northwestern’s head coach someone asked him what the difference was between him and then football coach Gary Barnett. O’Neill replied that Barnett was more of a “slogan and song coach” while O’Neill himself was more of a “play your butt off or I’ll kill you coach” (of course it was KO so he didn’t say butt). Bill Carmody has never to me fit into either category. He’s certainly not a slogan and a song guy, but if he were one to kill guys who didn’t play hard, NU would have run out of players the last few years. So, what is Bill Carmody? I don’t know, but if wants to lead NU to victory over a Wisconsin team that is 151-11 in home games under Bo Ryan and beat Northwestern like the proverbial drum at Welsh-Ryan he needs to be Gary Barnett.
People don’t realize that what Gary Barnett did in taking Northwestern to the Rose Bowl in 1995 (okay the game as Jan 1, '96) was probably the greatest coaching job ever in NCAA history. It’s marred now by his unceremonious departure from NU which pissed the NU community and the disastrous conclusion to his tenure at Colorado which made him something of a coaching pariah. The truth is, though, what Barnett did was amazing. He sold his players on belief without evidence and they chose to believe. When he took them to South Bend, Indiana as 27-point underdogs and told them not to dump Gatorade on him or carry him off the field after they won the game, the players took that as a natural instruction because he’d been training them to expect to beat Norte Dame from the time they started spring and with those final instructions he reminded them he KNEW it would happen. Yes, part of the reason Northwestern won that game was a great defense and some major clutch offense from Darnell Autry, Steve Schnur, and D’Wayne Bates, but you can’t underestimate the psychological advantage Barnett gave his players leading up to that September 2, 1995 day.
I think for NU’s men’s hoops team to beat Wisconsin on Sunday it is critical to gain a similar psychological edge. That’s why if I were Bill Carmody I’d paste 151-12 all over the place. I’d put it in the locker room, I’d put on the road trip agenda, I’d even top on the marquee on the team bus. I’d want our guys to be focused on the idea that it is possible to beat Wisconsin at the Khol Center and that there should be a belief inside the program that such a thing is possible.
I really do believe confidence and comfort is a major factor in basketball success because shooting is such a precise motion. Confident and relaxed a good shooter is going to make the majority of his shots, but part of the game is getting him out his rhythm. The defense tries to do this as does the home crowd. Between Bo Ryan’s tough man-to-man and the Wisconsin home crowd it’s pretty easy for even the best shooters to get a little tense and rush their shots in Madtown. But it doesn’t have to happen. Northwestern has a group of great shooters that when they feel good can put up points as well as team in the NCAA. They have an offense that when run correctly can get them open shots against any team in the NCAA. The problem is when panic sets in and they start to miss shots and stop running their offense. We’ve seen that happen several times this year, including the first game against Wisconsin. But, again, it doesn’t have to happen.
I honestly believe that an athlete can think themselves into success long before a game is played. Does it guarantee victory? No. But it does give that athlete the best chance at victory because confidence increases one’s chance at successes. That’s what I want from the Wildcats on Sunday. I want them to give themselves the chance to win they didn’t give themselves in the past. I want them to look at 151-12 and say to themselves, “We can make that happen.” And inside KNOW they will make it happen.
I actually really do think NU will win this game. The sad part is thanks to the loss Thursday vs Penn State the win will really be meaningless (unless you’re really hyped about the difference between being a 5-seed instead of a 6-seed in the NIT).